Trigger training

In the course of researching my article for The Cricketer (March 2017)* on the state of recreational umpiring, one thing that became apparent was the variance in training courses, both in cost and duration. Some ACOs opt for running courses in the evenings over a 6–8 week period. Others go for a high-intensity format, with training limited to two days, often over consecutive weekends.

Cost is potential stumbling block: some can be £80 per person. Again, it’s worth doing a bit of research, as there are often rebates available. For example, the Herefordshire ACO charges £80 for an Umpire Level 1 course, but the local Marches League will reimburse £40 if the newly qualified umpire goes on to stand in ten league games, and a further £40 if he or she stands in three county junior games—making it free of charge. Alternatively, it’s worth looking at neighbouring ACOs: the South East Wales ACO, by comparison, charges £30 per person.

The ECB provide a course finder on the ECB website. After selecting the type of course you’re looking for and clicking “View Events”, it’s best to press “Search” without selecting county, town, or country: there aren’t that many results anyway, and keeping the options open means you may find nearby courses better suited to your circumstances.

This lack of standardisation might initially be somewhat irritating, but on reflection it’s useful, providing a degree of flexibility for potential candidates. It’s to be hoped that the increased integration of the ACO with the ECB, voted in during January 2017, doesn’t completely remove such variability in the name of efficiency. Overhauling the course finder, however, would be a worthwhile task for the ECB’s IT team: searching by postcode would seem a clear improvement that could be implemented.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s much that clubs can do to help. It should be pretty obvious that if there are x teams, a minimum of x umpires are needed. A question, then, for each club: are they providing as many umpires as they field XIs? If not, offering to subsidise training for some of their club members would be a welcome gesture of support for the officials.

*Single issues of the The Cricketer are currently £4.50 online or £4.95 in-store. Alternatively, you can save a few quid by opting for a subscription, which by my calculations makes one issue in six effectively free. You may also be able to get a bottle of wine, a calendar and a diary thrown in, if their “hat-trick” offer is still going.

Mankad Day

It was just a matter of time. Yet it was entirely fitting that the latest Mankading Incident should erupt on Groundhog Day 2016. The date notwithstanding, it was, of course, just like the one in 2014. And the one in 2012. And the one in [that’s enough Mankad examples—Ed.].

Except it wasn’t. For without warnings from the bowler, nor blatant attempts by the batsman to steal ground, you could view this as a purer example. To use a programming term, this was an boundary condition: one in which the parameters are placed close to their perimeter, so as to test the system. The fact that the the batsman was apparently not attempting to gain ground, and the bowler was apparently always intending to run him out, was a twist on the usual situation. The opportunity to re-evaluate one’s own attitude under different conditions makes this latest furore almost welcome, even though on first glance, it seems like covering old ground.

Chris Smith’s careful handling of the matter is well worth consideration, going some way towards teasing out why many will have felt uncomfortable about the situation, and yet explaining why he, ultimately, supports such action.

For me, it’s been an opportunity to revisit my thoughts on the subject from 2012. On the whole, my view has changed little: I maintained then, and still do, that to criticise a bowler for effecting a fair dismissal, explicitly permitted (and regulated) in the Laws, on the basis of the Spirit of the Game, is an abuse of that concept, and is counter-productive.

At the same time, the passage of three years has resulted a slight shift in my opinion of what action should be taken. David Hopps, most notably, is leading the call for a mandatory warning to be issued to the batsman.

The idealist in me rejects this as an unnecessary alteration to Laws that are already ultra-clear. The pragmatist in me suggests this may be a sensible compromise that may help to bridge the divide in opinion.

The Laws, of course, are unambiguous. The MCC Laws of Cricket give Mankading a clean bill of health, specifically addressing it in Law 42.15. The difficulty arises, at least in part, due to the fact that knowledge of the Laws cannot be relied on, even amongst cricket lovers. Furthermore, the idea of warning the batsman first is so thoroughly ingrained in the perception of so many cricketers that it has to be given due consideration, and cannot merely be dismissed as irrelevant sentimentality.

For many, such behaviour isn’t what they wish to see in cricket. Their difficulty is that cricket’s Laws don’t outlaw it. Others believe, and I’m in this category, that if something’s in the Laws, there can be no quarrel with its enforcement.

If, though, the Laws were to change, providing support for the first group, then the second group, by virtue of the fact they they’ll stick rigidly to what the Laws prescribe (present tense), should, in theory, find themselves pulling in the same direction as the first group.

For that reason I find myself tending towards what might be termed the Hopps Solution. While my idealist side inwardly screams that it simply isn’t necessary, my pragmatic side says that it may be of some benefit. Enshrining a warning in the Laws would be unlikely to remove all the controversy—note that warning Buttler did not save Mathews from the ire of many (including Cook)—but as a practical first step, it has some merit.

Implementation would require careful consideration. Most obviously, there is the question of what would constitute a warning. Would a feinted Mankad count? Would a successful Mankad have to be effected, but without any appeal made? Or would a verbal reminder to the batsman that a Mankad was lurking suffice? These are not insoluble questions, though.

As an alternative to the Hopps Solution, MCC could change Law 42.15 to explicitly flag up that no warning shall be expected (which would run counter to their 2014 recommendation to provide a warning), or re-write the Preamble (which attempts to explain the Spirit of Cricket) to underline the fact that Mankading is not a contravention of the Spirit.

Regardless of whether any action is taken or none, Mankading is not going away, and neither will the debates. Whether you support change or not may well depend on your appetite for another Groundhog Day.

Hands tied: why governing bodies must not change match results

With the ECB currently unable, it appears, to make any move without being slammed from one quarter or another, it is pleasing to see one recent decision of theirs that can be applauded. The unnecessarily controversial end to the Kent vs. Sussex match in the Women’s One-Day Championship led to Kent appealing the tied result, on the basis that the ball was dead once the keeper had taken it, thus precluding any further running.

As those who knew the Laws were well aware, Kent were on a hiding to nothing, assuming that the Laws were consistently applied. Law 21.10 (Result not to be changed) is quite clear:

Once the umpires have agreed with the scorers the correctness of the scores at the conclusion of the match – see Laws 3.15 (Correctness of scores) and 4.2 (Correctness of scores) – the result cannot thereafter be changed.

Case closed. Yet even if the result could, hypothetically, have been changed, the Dead ball Laws also offered little support to Kent’s complaint.

Kent, it seems, felt the Sussex players were somehow underhanded in running whilst Kent imagined the ball was dead. As Laws 16.2 (Call of Time)23.1 (Ball is dead) and 23.2 (Ball finally settled) state, however:

The bowler’s end umpire shall call Time when the ball is dead on the cessation of play before any interval or interruption and at the conclusion of the match.

The ball becomes dead when […] it is finally settled in the hands of the wicket-keeper or of the bowler. […] The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play. […] Whether the ball is finally settled or not is a matter for the umpire alone to decide.

Had the umpires called “time”? If not, the ball was potentially still in play. Was it finally settled? Not if the umpires had reason to suppose that either the batters or the fielders still viewed it as in play. Sussex clearly viewed it as in play, so the umpires rightly ruled it as not being dead.

It’s disappointing to see the Kent coach take to Twitter, claiming that the “Spirit of Cricket has taken a big U-Turn this weekend.” As I have written elsewhere, such inappropriate invocations of the Spirit of Cricket only serve to confuse the matter. Why should the Spirit of Cricket be thought to have anything to do with attempting a fair run?

Since the Laws are so clear, it cannot have been very difficult, for the ECB to come to their stated conclusion as reported by CRICKETHer:

It has been decided that there is no reason to overturn any decision made by the umpires on the day, nor the outcome of the game as had been determined on the day.  The match is therefore a tie.

One cannot help but feel, though, that the ECB nonetheless could, and ideally should, have gone further in their statement. As it stands, the statement leaves open the possibility that they could have changed the result, had there been sufficient reasons to do so. This should not be possible. In the case of a result which they did consider to be in error, governing bodies should never overturn the result itself. That is a breach of the authority of the umpires, who have the sole responsibility for determining the result of the game. The ICC famously did so in the Oval Test of 2006, only to reverse their reversal following condemnation by MCC.

The most that a governing body should be able to do is to apply some competition penalty to nullify the result, rather than alter it. This could be done, for instance, by deducting points, or by disqualifying the team. Indeed, this happened in the infamous Worcestershire vs Somerset match when Somerset declared after one over. Somerset would have proceeded to the knockout stages, had the TCCB not voted, somewhat controversially in itself, to disqualify them.

Returning to the present day, it would have been preferable for the ECB to emphasise three points:

  1. that the ECB in principle has no right to alter the result determined by the umpires;
  2. that the ECB, incidentally, saw no error in the umpires’ judgement on this occasion;
  3. that the ECB therefore saw no reason to add or deduct points from any team, or take any further action.

Asking a governing body to recognise, highlight and advertise the limits of its own authority may, however, be expecting a little too much.